I don’t recline my seat on airplanes. I don’t hold it against people who do, but I just don’t do it. It’s a point of pride and my way of showing a little Midwestern spatial respect.
So when I felt the jab to the back of my arm, I thought the person behind me accidentally bumped me. When I felt it again, I turned around to see a man in his 80s who looked more than a little like Uncle Leo from Seinfeld.
“Stop leaning back,” the man said in a weak, gravelly whisper. “You’re hitting my laptop!”
“I’m just sitting here,” I said. “My seat isn’t even reclined.”
Okay, I probably should have apologized even though I did nothing wrong other than shift my weight and I should have called him “sir,” but I was somewhat offended that this man didn’t recognize how polite of a passenger I was. In fact, he thought the opposite, and quite fervently so.
“I’ll kick your ass!” The man said.
I waited for a laugh. There was no laugh. He was serious. He wanted to throw down at 30,000’ somewhere between Texas’s southern hospitality and Indiana’s Mid-western sensibility. He wanted it to be Go Time!
I looked from him to the woman with a baby strapped to her chest across the aisle. We shared a brief, “Can you believe this?” look, and then I turned back around and put my ear buds in.
That’s when I was assaulted.
The man gasped in a wheezy breath of air and then with all of the might his arthritic arms could muster, he hit the back of my seat. My neck snapped back and then I flew forward like a crash test dummy.
I turned around.
“I’ll kick your ass!” He said again, on the off chance I forgot.
“Sir, do you realize if you keep this up, they’ll probably have to land the plane early.” I tried to reason. “No one wants that.”
“When the plane lands,” he said. “I’m going to kick your fucking ass!”
I’m completely ready to get punched in the face by the man. I wondered if my face would bruise more or if his knuckles, courtesy of the blood thinners he undoubtedly takes, would.
At this point the women across the aisle shielded her baby in case a kerfuffle broke loose.
I’m not sure what it would take to engage me in a fight. I haven’t been in a fight since second grade in which I scrapped with a third grade girl. (I won, which is impressive when you consider a third grade girl is like twice the size of a second grade boy.) But I’m nowhere near fighting mode. Instead I’m shocked, dumbfounded, and inconvenienced.
“Mam,” I called the flight attendant who was almost back to us, but hadn’t seen a thing. “The gentleman behind me threatened to kick my ass, and then he threatened to kick my ‘fucking ass’ when we land.”
The man said something about his computer and how I was trying to destroy it. His voice is weak and barely audible if you aren’t looking at him within left hook range.
“Sir,” the flight attendant said, “he has the right to recline his seat.”
“Oh,” I said, “I wasn’t even reclining my seat.”
She shot me a look that said, “I got this. Just shut up.”
I felt like a frustrated child who had been wronged, and watched in disbelief, as my parent wasn’t going to take a stand even though justice was clearly on my side. But more than that I just wanted to get home and not have to land in St. Louis or anywhere that wasn’t Indianapolis.
The rest of the flight was uneventful, although my neck was sore (and days letter still is) and I had a temporary headache. I couldn’t wait for the cops to meet this guy when he got off the plane.
The plane landed. I grabbed my bags and didn’t look back at the man. There were no waiting cops. I thought about pushing the issue. Not because I was angry, but this guy should not be allowed to fly. If he had done this to someone whose blood boils instantly, he would have got punched in the face and the plane would have to make an emergency landing. Or if he would have hit the seat of someone who was older or had neck problems, he could have really injured them.
But since the flight attendant didn’t see anything, and I would have had to pull in the mother with the baby strapped to her chest as a witness and probably have had to answer questions and be asked if I was going to file charges, I said nothing.
I’ve flown around the world multiple times. This year alone I’ve spent more than a week sitting on a plane staring at the seat in front of me. I’ve had toddlers sit in front of me and fully recline their seat. I’ve had people ram their seats back as hard as they could without even looking to check with me.
Flying can be frustrating. Flying is frustrating.
If the man would have punched me in the face, I’m not sure I would’ve said anything. It wasn’t until I met this man that I realized the extent I hate sitting on an airplane.
I would rather be punched in the face than delayed.
UPDATE: So apparently the trauma of the experience knocked some things loose in my ear that control balance. I can’t sleep on my right ear or look down without the room spinning. I’m told that this should be a temporary problem. I can’t decide if I’m impressed with the brute strength of the man or if I’m disappointed with my fragility.